Could American Online Poker Be Holding a Losing Hand?
Two recent news stories highlight a serious cause for concern for the proponents of legalized online poker in the United States.
Both developments reiterate to the alarming prospect that right now we’re not only sizable underdogs to win federal support for legalization and regulation in the foreseeable future. We even may be in serious danger of losing the significant gains made since Black Friday devastated the American poker landscape back in 2011. All indications are the Sheldon Adelson-backed federal bill known as Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) could very well pass both houses of congress during the current session, be signed by the president, and might become the law of the land by year’s end. If that were to happen, it would be tantamount to a federal prohibition against poker and most forms of gambling online. In other words, permanent Black Friday would be the law in all fifty states.
The latest realist to sound the alarm bell that’s now ringing louder and more frequently than ever before is former Party Gaming executive Jim Ryan. He’s now the CEO for Pala Interactive, one of online poker and gambling’s strongest advocates in California. Ryan told Dan Cypra from PocketFives.com, “I think Adelson’s legislation has a good shot of passing.” In the interview, he expressed valid concerns that momentum for prohibition is growing at the federal level, despite objections from licensed companies already operating in three states and the concerns of many other prospective online operators elsewhere who are hoping to expand the market.
If the stark observations from one of the poker industry’s most powerful voices isn’t troubling enough, then consider the devastating news story which appeared in yesterday’s Las Vegas Sun which accentuates the growing disparity of influence between prohibitionists and online gambling advocates [Read: In battle for congress’ support, gaming advocates have a lot to learn from Adelson]. Adelson’s organization, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, is steadily winning over the hearts and minds of our elected officials in Washington. They are outspending, outmaneuvering, outthinking and outworking the opposition, despite the hard work and best intentions of many, including the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). For those who may charge this is little more than a partisan divide — think again. While Republicans are clearly driving the express train to outlaw online gambling, and they control both houses of congress at the moment, there are indeed many Democrats riding along as not only willing passengers, but outspoken allies who support RAWA. Who would ever have thought two so-called liberals such as Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would agree with the likes of far-right conservatives including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on anything? Politics does make for strange bedfellows.
The online gambling forces and poker community better get its act together quick and now, or else it’s going to be too late. Given the wheels (and money) are already in motion, it may very well be too late already. That said, one positive development this past week was a long-overdue presumptive political alliance between Caesars Entertainment and PokerStars (Amaya Gaming), two industry powers which have long been at odds fighting what’s essentially been a turf war. Although it’s still way too early to speculate as to whether online poker’s many divided factions will finally work together and form a united front, dissolving this once-bitter rift is a critical first step towards hopefully becoming a bona fide lobbying entity and wielding influence with elected officials. Whatever leverage the gambling industry once had in Washington was pretty much sabotaged when the gutless American Gaming Association (AGA) did an abrupt about face on the online gambling issue, no doubt swayed by the size and threat of Mr. Adelson’s heavy campaign wallet.
Aside from these few positive developments, no doubt which were triggered by growing fears the RAWA might pass, Mr. Adelson still seems to be holding most of the cards we need to make our hand. He’s got the money, the organization, the simplistic message which appeals to lawmakers and the public, and is now riding a rising political tide that’s excessively receptive (some would say wielded) to his wants and demands. It’s not just congressmen and senators getting bought out and paid for by the opponents of online poker. This nest of critics now even includes presidential candidates.
Sometimes, facts are hard to face. Underestimating the formidable forces against us, as ridiculous as their arguments often sound, would be a mistake. Presuming we will win this year just because we were successful last year would be an even bigger mistake.
We may have started out this battle holding the best poker hand — with a compelling position grounded in responsibility, reason, reality, and consistency. But the opposition flopped a set and we’re now drawing for what amounts to half the pot, since the best we can hope for right now is a stalemate — in other words, nothing happens. What remains to be seen if the poker industry and its players will fold the hand and walk away as its done so far by internal division and widespread apathy, or rise to the occasion and make a straight, whereby all poker players ultimately win.
Coming Next: Why Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) Might Pass